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What is salmonella, and how can I prevent getting it?

Answer by:
Ari Brown, MD

Pediatrician, WebMD Medical Expert
American Academy of Pediatrics

Salmonella (specifically Salmonella enteritidis) is the most common form of bacterial food poisoning. Within 12 hours to three days after an exposure, people develop nasty diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and stomach cramps. Unlike the watery diarrhea one typically sees with a stomach virus, salmonella usually causes diarrhea mixed with mucus and/or blood. And this infection lasts up to a week.

The good news is that most people fully recover without needing any special treatment or medication. Some unlucky people can get dehydrated and end up being hospitalized. And a few very unlucky people can become seriously ill from this infection. That includes young infants, people with weakened immune systems, and the elderly.

So, how do you avoid getting salmonella and other forms of food poisoning?

  1. Make sure to thoroughly wash countertops, sinks, and cutting boards with soap and water when preparing foods with eggs, raw meat, or poultry.
  2. Only prepare fully cooked eggs.
  3. Make sure hamburger/ground beef is cooked completely until it is brown. Yes, pink makes a juicier burger, but it also makes a germ-filled one.
  4. Use pasteurized eggs in recipes that call for raw eggs (like Caesar salad dressing).
  5. Keep eggs, meat, and poultry properly refrigerated.
  6. Keep all baby bottles, pacifiers, and breast pump supplies away from food preparation areas.
  7. Keep pet iguanas or turtles out of the kitchen counter area. (You think I am joking… I had a patient get salmonella this way). Make sure to wash hands thoroughly after handling.
  8. Buy only pasteurized apple cider and other juice products.
  9. Wash hands thoroughly after visiting a petting zoo.

Take-home tip: If you or a family member develops diarrhea that is bloody or mucousy, it’s time to call your doctor.